The home ownership rate made gains in the second half of 2015, but that progress was muted in the latest report from the U.S. Census Bureau. The first quarter of this year saw the home ownership rate back on the decline, plummeting to 63.6 percent, the third lowest on record.
For comparison, in 2004, home ownership soared to a high of 69.4 percent.
The nation continues to wait on younger Americans to make a move. Home ownership among those aged 25 to 34 years old is nearly 10 percentage points lower than it was a decade ago.
One factor in the drop in home ownership is the burden of student loan debt.
"The rising student loan debt is holding back first-time buyers, still hovering around 30 percent of all home buyers rather than the typical 40 percent," says NAR's Chief Economist Lawrence Yun in hismost recent column for Forbes. "That is why the home ownership rate still remains at near 50-year lows at 63.6 percent in the first quarter. Among those aged under-35 the ownership rate fell even more markedly and was 34.2 percent in the latest quarter."
Many would-be home owners are also faced with rental stress due to a four year streak of rents outpacing wage growth.
"Rental affordability remains a big problem in many places, and that makes it harder to save for a down payment," Jed Kolko, an independent economist and senior fellow at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at University of California, Berkeley, told CNBC. "We're still seeing relatively few first-time home buyers because young people are buying homes later than they used to. Some of this is a long-term shift toward marrying and having children later in life. Some of this is that the recovery has been slow among young adults."
However, home ownership rates among older Americans is on the rise, the data shows.
Household formation is also increasing. But two-thirds of the uptick is due to renters while one-third is from new households in owner-occupied homes, according to the Census data.
The data showed that the home ownership rate is highest in the Midwest, where homes tend to sell at the lowest prices. The home ownership rate is then lowest in the West, where homes tend to be sold at some of the highest prices in the country.